Stop Walking on Eggshells. Paul T. Mason, MS. and to Randi Kreger
Two authors go on a quest to help the readers better understand the diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder, while enlightening non-diagnosed family members and friends on how to take some control over their lives and improve the relationships with their diagnosed loved ones.
The world of psychology is an enormously wide one. Within it, there are a considerable amount of trains of though and approaches. Their purpose: a better understanding of the emotional and intellectual functioning of human beings.
Some of the ideas that have emerged throughout history, have later evolved into renowned theories, paradigms or schools, that have developed their own method of both conceptualizing and approaching a problem. Cognitive-behavioral therapy for example, aims at understanding the relationship between thoughts, feelings and behaviours and sustains that by targeting one of the three aspects, the other two can and will undergo changes and modifications, all with the purpose of alleviating a person’s distress or reducing negative behaviors towards themselves or others
Systemic or family therapy, rests its foundation in the concept that an individual is him/her and the context she functions in. This means that a person and the problem they face cannot be isolated from a social conceptualization, because humans exist in a continuum of interpersonal relations, and these relations are the focus when understanding and addressing a problem. We could go on for quite a while, exploring more theories, but that would divert us from the objective of this brief post.
Psychological theories or schools differ in their origins, postulates and work approaches. They also differ on the idea of whether or not “labeling” or diagnosing a person (with a disorder that has been given a name and a series of diagnostic criteria) has positive or negative influences, not only on the person that receives it, but also on their family and social context.
Some people find relief in a diagnosis: they can finally name and understand what is happening to them, and they come to learn that they are not the only ones who struggle with their condition: be it a communication, eating, personality or trauma and/or stressor related disorder, among others. Other patients and clinicians, on the other hand, find that using a label or diagnosis is quite the opposite of helpful, and that the person linked to it, often feels that his or her identity is mainly constructed and understood around the condition, preventing others from seeing their strengths and healthy aspects.
After this overly-extended introduction, we can come to focus on one of those “labels”: A diagnosis that affects almost 2% of the general population, although some authors have found in their research an even higher prevalence of the disorder, affecting more women than men: Borderline Personality Disorder.
Often times, we come to find the behaviors or emotional responses of a loved one-be it a friend, family member, life partner, etc- as strange, overwhelming, guilt-inducing , completely narrow (black or white constructions) or as extremely rapidly-shifting. A lot of people can fit into the ambiguous description just addressed a few lines above. However, when a person exhibits: a continuous sense of emptiness, accompanied by deep fears of abandonment, lack of self regulatory skills when it comes to handling emotions, alternates between idealizing and devaluating the same person, acts impulsively in ways that can be harmful to themselves, exhibits a very unstable sense of self and incurs in self harming behaviors or threatens or attempts suicide, we could be in the presence of a person struggling with Borderline Personality Disorder.
The person facing the diagnosis has a big battle to fight: Therapy (which will include intense personal awareness and work) and sometimes medication are needed to understand the disorder and make the necessary modifications and acceptances, in order to live. However, friends or family members of someone who has such diagnosis, can come to be inevitably placed in a state and/or situation that they have not chosen, but need to face, none the less. “Stop walking on eggshells” is a book that can easily take the shape of a light to use while walking through a tunnel. It offers concrete help for those people who have the diagnosis in their life, in the form of a condition that affects someone they love. They are not the ones who have been given the diagnosis, but that does not mean that it doesn´t affect them as well.
The authors of the book have chosen the option of diagnosis, as a means to understand the struggle a person with Borderline Personality Disorder undergoes each day. Also, as a way to help change unhealthy relational patterns and give some control to those who find themselves tangled in the web of the diagnosis, but do not wish to cut out from their lives the person that faces the condition. A big thanks are owed to Paul T. Mason, MS. and to Randi Kreger (the authors), who not only use the diagnosis in order to offer a better comprehension of the condition, but also take the necessary pages to examine in detail each of the diagnostic criteria proposed by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
If you read the book, you will begin the process of understanding why a person with the diagnosis acts the way the act, and you will be able to start the slow process of separating them from the disorder, without diminishing the responsibility for their actions in the process. The words in the title ”Walking on Eggshells” very well describe what existence feels like for a lot of spouses, family members or friends. They do not know where they stand: They are afraid to say or do the wrong thing, not knowing which of their actions will result in a temper outburst, a mayor withdrawal from their loved one or an unexpected idealization (and almost heroic perception), with the following opposite demonization, that no one knows when will come.
The dance to be learned is a delicate one, and boundaries play a very big part in it. Individuals that face the diagnosis have a very hard time with boundaries in general. One of the best ways in which a non-borderline-personality-disorder-diagnosed person can help their loved one, is by constructing and maintaining healthy boundaries. Since they are a source of conflict, often times they are not proposed, but they are certainly one of the key ingredients in a relationship with someone who has been diagnosed with the disorder.
The book also comes with a workbook that suggest exercises that prove very useful to both conceptualize and practice new ways of relating to a diagnosed loved one.
Underestimating the emotional pain and fear that a person with Borderline Personality Disorder experiences is a common trap people fall into. The first step is to empathize as much as you can with the person who has been diagnosed :The book will help you; once true understanding has taken place, there is a serious second step to consider: it involves asking oneself hard questions such as, what choices have I made in the past?, are they the best ones for me right now?, do I need to feel needed?, what rights do I feel I have?, what do I feel that I can ask of others?, What am I responsible for in a given relationship? These questions will help acknowledge the responsibility we have towards ourselves in any given interaction and therefore help on the path towards assertiveness.
If you choose to read the book, know that a good amount of reflection and self-criticism will be inevitably involved. But that is precisely how we can become essential blocks in the construction of healthier realities, both for ourselves and for hose we love. We, as the authors, can choose to use a diagnosis for the better.
By Rocío Fernández Cosme